Who is Hussain? – an interview

Exactly 2 weeks ago me, Kinga Plata – author of this blog met with an inspiring person. She’s a spokesperson for Who is Hussain? – non-governmental organization, which does really good job not only here in London but around the globe. We talked about their various actions, current events in the world…

And here is our conversation.
WiH: Kinga? Hi!

KP: Yes! Hello! Thank you for coming.
WiH: Thank you for coming to White Chapel.
KP: I asked you for this meeting to talk about Who is Hussain? organization you are part of. Of course your website is full of information but there are some questions I could not find answers for and also I would like to broader discuss what your activity is all about.
So, how did it all started? Who’s idea was to start the organization? And why?
WiH: It was just over 5 years ago here in London that the idea for this organisation was developed. It was a group of friends who were reflecting on the current state of the world, and were moved to use the inspiration of Hussain to stand for social justice. The organisation grew organically, bringing people together, uniting them and providing a vehicle through which they could do small positive actions in their local communities that would benefit others.. We wanted to unite people under a revolutionary role model who they can easily recognize and associate with like Martin Luter King or Hussain ibn Ali. They were individuals who stood for justice, dignity, respect and equality – and these are the values which we try to exemplify through our work. Hussain’s legacy continues to inspire many around the world.


KP: You say on your website that you are apolitical, areligious organization. Who are your members and volunteers? Do you ask them about their believes at all? Let’s say for your own record?

WiH: Our volunteers are individuals from a range of background – Christians, Muslims, Jews as well as those of no faith. Whilst many of our global representatives are Muslim, we work with a diverse group of people and encourage everyone to get involved. 

 

KP: Let’s get to the core, which is your activity and campaigns. Which was the first one? Blood donations? Giving food to the homeless or something entirely different?
WiH: It was a combination. Around the world, Who is Hussain carries out a number of great charitable initiatives, with many being focussed around donating blood, helping the homeless and providing food and water to those in need. From practical side actions like that are quite easy to organize and find partners who are happy to cooperate, like NHS for example. Also we believe that it is important that representatives respond to local needs, as per their local community and so our activities are not restricted and our outcomes are far-reaching.

Where possible, we try to collaborate with charities and other organisations doing similar work, so we can support and strengthen each other, rather than duplicating services. 

 KP: You did also set up awareness campaign. I guess that this year is #ItStartsWithYou. What is it exactly about?
WiH: Each year we run a different campaign focussed on encouraging people around the world to get involved and give back. The 2016 Campaign we launched was #ItStartsWithYou – communicating the message that we can all effect change, no matter how big or small our action may be. Once again, using the example of Hussain who gave his life in a stand against tyranny and oppression, we hope individuals are inspired to undertake social action that promotes justice and equality. 

KP: Well, talking about those issues in here is quite safe, but there are some countries where being too vocal can cost life…

WiH: We are very conscious of this, and we do not encourage anybody to do anything that would endanger themselves or others.. All we ask from our supporters is to do whatever they can that is both locally appropriate and culturally sensitive. The safety of our volunteers is paramount.

 KP: Tell me something about your past campaigns. For me the hair cut for homeless was really original and an amazing idea.

WiH: Yes, this was particularly effective. For many, a haircut is a luxury and so for us this was about restoring dignity. Not only does this provide an opportunity for us to better engage with those we are working with, but it improved self-confidence and made people happier. Another action the London team did was a CV workshop to help individuals with finding employment.

Other campaigns include #HussainInspires, which raised greater awareness of who Hussain ibn Ali is and what impact he has had on the world. #TeamGiveBack from a few years ago again encourage people to be part of a larger movement promoting positive action. Projects have included raising money to pay for live saving surgeries for children in Iraq as well as working with Room to Read to educate impoverished children.

Local actions include the 40 Acts of Kindness, where for 40 consecutive days individuals would undertake to do something small that would help others. Some went to elderly homes to spend time with the residents, others organised a food drive or donated blood.

 KP: Coming back to the homeless and helping them to find an employment. Do you possibly know if any of them managed to change their lives?
WiH: It is difficult to give specific statistics as we do not have a record of those we have engaged with over the years. But anecdotally, we know of some who have since been successful – others we see regularly and so are aware of developments. It is always nice to hear good news or success stories. 
KP: To make it all happen you cooperate with different organizations across the globe. Who are they?
WiH: Our partners and activities varies depending on the country we are working in. At the height of public consciousness on the refugee crisis we were helping Save the Children to raise the funds for refugee children. Since then our team in Toronto (and other areas) have been involved in welcome and resettlement actions. India and Pakistan have led projects focussed on aid and disaster relief work, the UK team have worked with St Mungo’s and there are numerous other examples. One notable achievement was the Lebanon team breaking their country’s world record on blood donation towards the end of last year. 

 KP: And how it all works from the financial side? I mean, how do you distribute money you get from your donors? How much goes for those in need and how much to run the organization? Is it anyhow regulated by the law?

WiH: We are a not-for-profit organisation. Whilst we do accept donations, our main focus has been to encourage people to donate their time rather than money. Our donors are mostly individuals and small businesses, which allows us to focus our energies on mobilising people. We follow standard good practise when it comes to accounting, and are transparent with our donors.

 
KP: Apart from your activity what also brought me here was Ashura procession I saw on the streets of London on 12 of October and thanks to which I found out about your organization. Do you know how many people attended?
WiH: This wasn’t organized by Who is Hussain, but many Shia Muslims attend this annually as part of the traditional processions marking the death anniversary of Hussain. Using his stand against tyranny and oppression as inspiration, this year there was an effort to make this into a a demonstration against ISIS and other perpetrators of terror acts. It is of course important to note that the vast majority of Muslims are peace loving individuals who contribute and give back to society, and that part of the message those in the procession were communicating. I’d recommend you contacting the organisers for more details.

KP: Do you think that your actions help some to avoid radicalization? 

WiH: The organisation is focussed on meeting local needs and helping where we can. The target audience is quite broad, and not focused on any specific faith, race or any other grouping. 

KP: Some time ago next to the article about battle to retake Mosul from ISIS I found this picture of a tank with a flag on it. It was the same one which I saw on Ashura procession in London. Is there anybody form your organization fighting in Iraq? Or does Who is Hussain? supports Shia militia?

WiH: Hussain is a very prominent personality for many Shia Muslims, and his shrine is located in Iraq. Many people around the world carry flags with his name on it, particularly those in Iraq. There is no specific correlation with our organisation or any other, and so it would be incorrect to assume any affiliation with Shia militia or any other group. Most Shia also see Ayatullah Ali Al-Sistani as the leading authority. He issued guidance discouraging Muslims around the world from leaving their homes in order to join forces in Iraq attempting to oppose ISIS, which is adhered to. There are different rulings for those living in Iraq. 

KP: What do you think personally? Is it going to be worse? 

WiH: Terrorism is a scourge on society and as there are always those who will peddle messages of hate and division. As long as there is disparity and inequality there are opportunities to broaden these divides.

KP: What do you think is a remedy for all this mess?

WiH: I am a strong advocate that dialogue can help overcome ignorance and develop tolerance. There needs to be a multi-pronged approach to targeting xenophobia, intolerance and hate. There is a shared responsibility for us all. Yes, world leaders and the media can influence with their rhetoric, but we also have a role to play in speaking out against injustice and assisting where we can. We have far more that unites us than that which divides us, and this is what needs to be developed. 

KP: Since I moved here, London’s multi-cultural society is what I like the most about this city. We can all live next to each other.

WiH: Definitely, in London we celebrate diversity.. Unfortunately, at times just because someone looks different, or believes a different faith they are seen as the other. We often find that negativity and intolerance are fuelled by people’s fear of the other, and this can be overcome by seeing each other as humans, who have the same concerns, hopes and aspirations. It is also important to note that those preaching messages of hate are a very small but vocal minority. The vast majority are those who respect difference and are willing to stand in solidarity with different communities. 

KP: It seems that they will keep us busy for the next few years… Thank you for your time and this conversation. 

 
For more information about Who is Hussain? visit:
https://whoishussain.org

And highly recommended article about one of WiH actions:
https://www.buzzfeed.com/aishagani/muslim-and-jewish-barbers-cutting-hair?utm_term=.vsYJpVaeY#.aby1LxpAz

 
 
 
 

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